Question: Is a man unreliable because he lived in the 19th-Century?

FairMormon Answers Wiki Table of Contents

Question: Is a man unreliable because he lived in the 19th-Century?

To imply that someone is unreliable simply because of the era they lived in is a ad hominem attack

Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not "empirical" or "rational" because they lived in the 19th-Century during a time when "folk magic" was practiced?

  • One critic of Mormonism claims "The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, twenty-first century men" (The claim was modified to read "nineteenth-century men" in later revisions)[1]

To imply that nineteenth-century men are intrinsically unreliable is both an ad hominem (an attack against the character of person making the claim, rather than the claim itself) and sets an impossible standard of evidence for the gospel inasmuch as they were the only men available as witnesses at the time. Thus the author is using a screening argument (dates of life) that can be used to exclude whatever evidence he wishes to ignore.

Some have claimed that this rebuttal is a misapplication of the ad-hominem fallacy. It's easy to claim that an ad-hominem fallacy is misapplied by invoking the fallacy fallacy, which means that an argument can still be true even if it contains a logical fallacy. Thus, even if it's an ad hominem attack, it may still be true and necessary for evaluating someone! This is a common counterclaim to make when an interlocutor accuses you of ad hominem. But let's revert to the original argument being made here. The original argument states that the witnesses are unreliable because they lived in the 19th century, sought for treasure, and/or (may have) practiced folk magic. It is ad hominem to claim this and does not address the consistency of the witnesses, even when their feelings for Joseph turned sour at different points of their lives. It does not address the multiplicity of occasions when they went on record to testify, the occasions when they went our of their way to correct their testimony when misrepresented by the public press, the both tangible and revelatory nature of their experience, the witnesses other than the 11 that saw the plates and handled them, and so forth. The argument is bunk.

The following video introduces all witnesses, both formal and informal, to the Book of Mormon, examines several of the hardest-hitting claims against them, and demonstrates the emergent strength of their composite testimonials.


  1. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (original version posted on the critical website "") (2013)